Friday, June 20, 2014

Schwerner, Goodman, Chaney

If you don't know those three names - who they were, what happened 50 years tomorrow and why it still matters - shame on you.

Read and learn - then find your local NAACP and volunteer to help them register voters. It works. That's why people died for it.

James Earl "J.E." Chaney (May 30, 1943 – June 21, 1964), from Meridian, Mississippi, was one of three American civil rights workers who were murdered during Freedom Summer by members of the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The others were Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York City.  

Chaney and the other men were killed near the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. He and fellow workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were investigating the burning of Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which had been a site for a CORE Freedom School. In the wake of Schwerner and Chaney's voter registration rallies, parishioners had been beaten by whites. They accused the Sheriff's Deputy, Cecil Price, of stopping their caravan, and forcing the deacons to kneel in the headlights of their own cars, while white men beat them with rifle butts. That same group was identified as having burned the church.

Price arrested the three (Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman) for an alleged traffic violation and took them to the Neshoba County jail. They were released that evening, without being allowed to telephone anyone. On the way back to Meridian, they were stopped by patrol lights & two carloads of KKK members on Hwy 19 then taken in the car to another remote rural road. The men approached then shot and killed Schwerner, then Goodman, and finally Chaney, after chain-whipping him. They buried the young men in an earthen dam nearby.

The men's bodies remained undiscovered for 44 days. The FBI was quickly brought into the case by John Doar, the Department of Justice representative in Mississippi monitoring the situation during Freedom Summer. The missing civil-rights workers became a major national story, especially coming on top of other events as civil rights workers were active across Mississippi in a voter registration drive.

Schwerner's widow Rita, who also worked for CORE in Meridian, expressed indignation that the press had ignored previous murders and disappearances of blacks in the area, but had highlighted this case because two white men from New York had gone missing. She said she believed that if only Chaney were missing, the case would not have received nearly as much attention.
And more:
Three American civil rights' workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael "Mickey" Schwerner, were shot at close range on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County's Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the "Freedom Summer" campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

Their murders sparked national outrage and a massive federal investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation referred to this investigation as Mississippi Burning (MIBURN), and eventually found the bodies 44 days later in an earthen dam near the murder site. After the state government refused to prosecute, the federal government initially charged 18 individuals but was only able to secure convictions for seven of them, who received relatively minor sentences for their actions. However, outrage over their deaths assisted in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

1 comment:

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I remember being in my basement, late at night, listening to WBAI when the first news that they were missing came on. At a time when I could not -- literally -- afford bus fare to the next town, and living in a family that did not own a car -- still true fifty years later -- I was consumed with frustration that I could not find a way to go down and help with the search.

At least now I can use my voice to remind people that what they were martyred for is no longer an 'abstraction out of the past' but, as you rightfully point out, a battle that needs yet again to be fought.

No one is murdering people who want to vote -- such crudity is no longer needed when the legislatures have new excuses that are theoretically color neutral (HA!). And so far none of the nonagenarians that make the news by being excluded have failed to survive the attempt to vote, have collapsed on long lines.

But please, the next time anyone tells you they are too busy to vote, or it isn't worth the effort remind them of how important it was to these three youths -- and to their murderers.